From Chamonix to the Ice and Granite Empire: the Mythical Goûter Route to Mont Blanc

Isaac H. Companyó
Isaac H. Companyó

Aside from Mount Everest, the quintessential peak is Mont Blanc, a mountaineering emblem in Europe. Reaching the summit is not only a matter of experts, but any mountaineer knows that requires prudence and courage in equal parts. It is a serious, difficult and wonderful excursion. Its beauty is comparable to its difficulty.

There are several possible routes to reach the top of this colossus. Of these, one of the most frequented is the Goûter route, named after going through the Dôme du Goûter, a gradual hill slope that when seen from afar, it looks like it contains a dome inside.

This route is not the hardest or the most technical, but one of the most spectacular. For  mountaineers, there are few comparable picturesque places to watch the sunrise from the summit. However, reaching the top is complex. In the ascent, there are three really dangerous steps, so it’s necessary to go up with a fellow climber. If this is not an option, then you can hire a mountain guide, which is a more expensive option but highly recommended.

Nattule sums up 5 key moments to reach the top of the Alps:

1. The Approach

The cradle of the European mountaineering is in Chamonix, a small French village located close to the borders of Switzerland and Italy. To begin your adventure, you must take the Bellevue cable car from there.

It would be ideal to leave early to catch the first trip of this cable car with its beautiful views. The trip will allow you to enjoy a 360 ° panoramic of the spectacular scenery. It’s no wonder that this place is called Beautiful View in French. The Bellevue station is at the end of the course.

Mont Lachat Valley © Arkaitz Morales

Once there, you must take the Mont Blanc tram. Try entering last in order to be the first to get out. The first and last tram of the day usually goes full of alpinists who begin the ascent and those returning from doing it the day before. It is advisable to leave quickly to avoid blockages in the Mont Lachat station, which is the end of the journey .

Another factor to consider is the altitude. It is important that you acclimate well the days prior to the climb.

Once you have made sure that you have everything under control, it is time to begin the journey.

Mont Lachat tram © Arkaitz Morales

2. The Pierre Ronde Desert

From the end of the tram to the top there are three shelters in ascending order: the Eagle’s Nest, the Tête Rousse and Goûter. Depending on your fitness, age and level of acclimation, you should plan your route carefully. However, the best option is to leave early to get to Goûter the first day and try the climb it the next morning.

Passing through the Eagle’s Nest, you must go east to go around the steepest slope that rises from the Tête Rousse refuge. It is in this place where one leaves the sparse vegetation of the high mountain and begins to enter the kingdom of snow which continues until you make your way back. Here, you’ll understand why they call it white mountain.

The road, if it is not covered by snow, is full of stones and rocks. The landscape is bleak, which explains why it is called the Pierre Ronde desert. If it snows, it is not uncommon to see that the most cautious climbers begin to recede.

The beginning of the climb © Arkaitz Morales

After this first stretch, you will have to put on crampons to improve the adhesion of the tread. The journey here is full of zigzags. An upward, smooth and steady edge will take you to the Tête Rousse shelter at 3,167 meters above sea level. It will take just over 2 hours to get there. The 800 meters of altitude is not the biggest obstacle, however the climb gets complicated if you have to fight through strong gusts of wind or even through a snowstorm. Consider it a warning that this climb is very complex.

You should hydrate often and eat some solid foods from time to time. Arriving at Tête Rousse, you will see the beautiful ridge called Bionnassay for the first time. From this small projection, one can observe the remaining of the hard climb ahead of them, so this is a good place to assess your strengths and decide whether to stay in this shelter or dare to get to the next.

Tête Rousse shelter and the Bionassay ridge © Arkaitz Morales

3. The Great Corridor

Leaving the Tête Rousse you will go around a small glacier that bears the same name, to face the steep slope shown on your right, which begins to straighten to trace the land under the long ridge that rises to the Aiguille du Dôme.

This section provides a fixed rock cable. The path is narrow and uncomfortable. Remember that this is a two-way stretch so you must leave room for those who are going down usually at high speed, so that they do not push you.

About halfway through the climb you’ll have to cross the Grand Corridor. This is nothing more than a huge chimney, where detached rocks usually fall because of the climbers that go out of the paths. Therefore, you must have maximum concentration here. Of course, the use of a helmet is mandatory. You have to cross as quickly as possible without losing sight of the chimney. You should also calculate the speed of the climbers ahead of you, to not reach them and be exposed to landslides without shelter.

The Great Corridor © Arkaitz Morales

Once this stage is over, the road goes upward and narrows. It’s like riding up the spine of a dinosaur. The track here is very worn and the rocks are unstable. You should exercise extreme caution until the Goûter shelter, located at 3,817 meters above sea level.

This refuge is a landmark on the road to Mont Blanc. You might bump into a mountaineering legend or several generations of mountain guides there. Like all mountain shelters, Goûter walls are plenty of pictures of the good times. Take the opportunity to dine well in order to regain strength while enjoying the beauty of the sunset from this unique place.

It is also important that you go to bed early. You will need to get up at dawn to continue the climb. The bunk beds are located in a communal room and, although the nerves of the climb and perhaps some mountaineer snoring may not help you sleep, you should try to rest as much as possible to have plenty of energy the next day.

Goûter shelter © Arkaitz Morales

4. Dôme du Goûter 

Breakfast is served at 3 in the morning. The temperature is extreme when departing at that time and you must be equipped with a frontal torch to illuminate the path of steps that guide you to the top. Crampons are required to leave the shelter.

At night you can see the row of lights under the stars; a magnificent view. Once out of the shelter, you must climb up to the Dôme du Goûter. The slope is grueling and the nocturnal climb does not help. All this is done to just see the sunrise from the highest possible point. The slope has two or three places that are similar to the summit, so it may seem to you that you will never reach it, but do not despair. Each step you take gets you closer to your goal.

Once through the Dôme du Goûter, you will pass by the Vallot shelter. This is a small shelter unattended and only to be used in case of emergency. At that hour, the sky begins to lighten. You can make a short stop here to drink and rest a few minutes to enjoy the excellent view of Mont Maudit, which is to the west.

View of Mont Maudit at sunrise © Arkaitz Morales

5. The Final Ridge

On your way, you’ll go towards Les Bosses (The Humps), two peaks chained one to another. So you’ll have to climb and descend the first, in order to climb the second. Your shadow will begin to reflect on a vertical wall due the first rays of sun.

Once you’ve left Les Bosses, you’ll get to the most exposed and dangerous stretch of the entire route. The winding path narrows even more and approaches the precipice, which sets you apart by about 50 centimeters. Therefore, you must be extra cautious. At that time, any mistake can have serious consequences.

Les Bosses © Arkaitz Morales

The path narrows further in the final edge between two strands of 1,000 to 1,500 meters of altitude. The order of ascending is followed, so the ones climbing have priority over the ones going down. Therefore, the ones descending should leave room and wait for those who are ascending to exceed their position.

The final edge elongates into a straight line to the summit. Your concentration at this point should be at the maximum, as surely your strengths are already depleted and your steps have become slower.

You are just a few meters away from reaching the most famous European summit.

You will have achieved your goal super early in the morning: the Mont Blanc summit, whose beauty is inferior to the panorama visible from it.

Last steps to the summit © Arkaitz Morales

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From the sofa, it might look easy to climb Mont Blanc. The documentary viewer reaches the top without even having their fingers gone numb. The sofa addict is unaware that the cold of the Alps is a great choice. If Nattule offers you that it is because, unlike hammocks, floes cause tachycardias.

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